Agenda item for February SPI board meeting

Jimmy Kaplowitz jimmy at
Sun Feb 5 02:22:37 UTC 2012

Hi Robert,

One thought first on discussing this in the meeting: we should probably have a
predetermined time limit for this item, since discussions are usually hard to
make deep progress on during the meeting, but it's reasonable to spend a bit of
time to get comments there.

As for my substantive thoughts:

On Sun, Feb 05, 2012 at 11:56:09AM +1000, Robert Brockway wrote:
> (1) Using a back office company
> Numerous companies (in the US and elsewhere) provide back office
> support services.  A concern here would be obtaining a package that
> fitted with SPI's needs and was within SPI's budget.

I was at one point involved with another nonprofit that used this kind of
service. That nonprofit ended up moving those man-hours to in-house volunteer
board members because it wasn't cost-effective for their needs. Although every
organization is different and it would be a bit less inappropriate for SPI than
for them, I still think it's a worse option for us than either your option #2
or the status quo.

> (2) Hiring a part-time employee
> Another option is to hire an office assistant on a part-time basis.
> The office assistant could work for however many hours per week that
> was agreed with the SPI secretary (subject to upper limits set by
> the board). We may find, for example, that we only need an office
> assistant to work for 4 hours per week to achieve our aims.  The
> hourly rate of someone performing this task is likely to be quite
> modest.

This seems useful. We do seem to be rather bottlenecked on the man-hours of remarkably few individuals, principally Michael. To be clear, I'm very happy with what Michael is doing, and having been in his role some years ago I know how hard it is. Still, more man-hours would give him and the rest of SPI more flexibility.

It would probably be wise to list some example tasks that would comprise this person's work week (or the part of it when they're working for SPI), and how much time we guesstimate each task would take, etc. This is not for purposes of micromanagement, but more for planning the budget, the necessary employee skills, the required board member time involved in oversight, etc.

> I envision that this office assistant would report to the Secretary and
> principally provide support for the Secretary and Treasurer.

That's fine if the Secretary and Treasurer are willing to do the corresponding
oversight for that arrangement. :) Still, depending on what duties are
offloaded to this person it might make sense to have them report to (and be
geographically near) the Treasurer. Or Michael could shift things like
corporate records and annual filings to the Secretary and the part-time
employee. Up to them I guess.

> An arrangement like this would ideally operate with limited
> commitment on either SPI or the office assistant to minimise
> liability and costs.

Not sure what you mean by "limited commitment". Certainly it would require some
minimum level of ongoing oversight, as well as some sort of contractual
agreement to protect confidentiality where that makes sense (e.g. donor info or
sensitive early-stage discussions with potential associated projects), plus
more insurance and legal advice than with no employees.

On the plus side, due to the very nature of having an additional person
spending significant time on SPI, it wouldn't inherently mean more work for any
current individuals. And if we ever want to scale beyond one part-time
employee, the jump from 1 to 2 is a lot less onerous than from 0 to 1.

> I expect that the work could generally be done by someone working from
> home but it may make sense for the office assistant to be based close to
> the treasurer or secretary for practical reasons.  The office
> assistant would probably view this work as a suppliment to their
> normal income.


> Any such arrangement would need to be consistent with relevant US
> federal and state labor laws and would need to be discussed with SPI
> counsel.
> Selection criteria could cover regular office assistant skills, as
> well as knowledge of FOSS principles.
> There are some of my thoughts on the topic.  Comments encouraged.

Agreed. All of that is reasonable. And, at least based on the labor laws for US
jurisdictions I've looked into, the rules that apply with only 1-3 employees
are relatively few and manageable with a bit of due care.

More information about the Spi-general mailing list